General Petraeus's Positive Legacy

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Many in America's foreign policy community still have a positive view of David Petraeus and his legacy.

Michael O'Hanlon: Obviously, David Petraeus is a fantastic and accomplished American hero.

Werman: Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. He has known Petraeus for decades and recently he has been working with Petraeus as a member of the CIA's external advisory board. O'Hanlon says he was impressed with Petraeus' tenure at Langley.

O'Hanlon: Admittedly, he is my longstanding friend. I've known him for 25 years since graduate school and it's worth saying that upfront just to be clear. But I also think that, first of all, the continued prosecution of the war on terror has achieved some big results in the last 14 months. They didn't begin under his stewardship but they certainly continued, at the same time that I think he was judicious in not overdoing it. Of course, people are worried about the use of new means of application of force and interrogation methods and incarceration methods and all the debates of the last dozen years or so. I think he was a very thoughtful, although quiet, participant in those debates as he had to be in the job he held. He was learning fast and doing very good things on issues ranging from cyber-war to the rise of China, to the ongoing relationships with Russia, to other parts of the world as well. I mean, he's just been an amazing intellect and a huge loss for the country, of course. But, the good news is that if there's any place in town that has a lot of brilliant people, even if they are not necessarily of quite the level or fame of David Petraeus, it may be the CIA.

Werman: As you know, from your proximity to David Petraeus, he was as much a political animal as a military one and America has a tradition of successful Generals becoming President. Before this business, did you see Petraeus as a serious contender for the Presidency?

O'Hanlon: No. David Petraeus always said publicly and always told his friends privately that he had no interest in the job. In addition to taking him at his word, especially when I heard it a dozen times or more and always because somebody prompted him — not because he just volunteered this because that would be suspicious if he had but, in addition to that fact, I never had any reason to think that he felt this was his comparative strength, that he felt it was his comparative advantage or that he had a particularly clear vision on domestic politics and issues of what he would do with the presidency. And so, those of us who wanted him to consider running for President have always hoped that we could persuade him by convincing him that, let's say for example on the budget deal, if it still wasn't solved in 2016, if the country's fiscal situation was still a mess in 2016, maybe he could help rise above the fray. That's the sort of argument that some of us wanted to make to him. Not that anybody thought he would have or should have or could have run in 2012, but looking ahead to 2016. But that was not something he was interested in hearing or ever contemplated so I think his categorical rejections can be taken at face value.

Werman: Well, maybe not Head of State, but our previous guest indicated that Washington hasn't seen the last of David Petraeus. Do you think he could come back from this in any way?

O'Hanlon: Oh, I certainly hope and pray that yes, he will. I think David Petraeus is an amazing American who made a big mistake, but also saved countless lives often at very severe risk to his own. Obviously, what he accomplished remains and stands for itself. The accomplishments in Iraq and the broader central command region and Afghanistan and elsewhere are considerable. I think that it's not the moment to speculate about specifics because the Petraeus' need to go through some healing and the country needs to deal with this news and we need to be able to put it in some broader perspective. But, the short answer is yes, I think there are plenty of things he could still do and I hope he will.

Werman: Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution; thank you.

O'Hanlon: Thank you very much.